Responding to COVID 19 with Service

When if first became apparent at the end of last week that we were entering a quarantine situation, I recognized that there would be needs among the more vulnerable members of our community. As the president elect of the Groton Rotary Club, an organization that lives by the motto of Service Above Self, I knew that it was time to prepare.

A number of people have asked me to summarize what I did so they could emulate it in their own communities, so what follows is a game plan for organizing to serve your community.

1. Find Out What Everyone Else Is Doing

While it’s not a huge problem for there to be two volunteer lists, it is more efficient to at least know what else is being done so you’re not totally duplicating efforts.

My first call was to our town manager. He told me that this effort would be greatly appreciated. Most municipal governments, especially here in Connecticut, have been dealing with progressively less state aid and increasing health care costs. This has forced them to cut out anything not strictly necessary, which would include any kind of staff or capacity to deal with an unusual situation like this.

Your town is likely well prepared to deal with keeping order and keeping the lights on, but getting food to people who need it, checking on the elderly, and all the rest, that falls to groups like Rotary, Lions, and other kind hearted volunteers.

If there are other service organizations in your community, reach out to them as well. You may be able to collaborate.

2. Organize Volunteers and Resources

The COVID 19 situation is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. That means that the needs will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We can guess at a few because they are existing needs that will simply be made worse by social distancing and business closures: food insecure people will become more food insecure, elders who are lonely will become lonelier, etc. Beyond that, who knows what the needs may be.

Thus, my first step was to solicit volunteers. I created a Google Form. Google Forms are free and easy to use, and can output to a Google Sheet, which is Google Drive’s version of Excel.

On the form, in addition to basic contact info, I asked what people would be willing to do, if they had a car, and what towns they were interested in serving in. That last one I added later when I realized that other surrounding towns weren’t doing the same thing and I wanted our list to be usable not just for Groton but for the area.

I also started coordinating with my own Rotary Club to see what resources we might have financially to bring to bear on the situation, if we could do online fundraising, etc.

Our work was featured in our local paper, The Day.

3. Offer Resources to Identify Needs

Once resources are gathered and you know what you have to offer, you can start spreading the word that you have resources to offer. I reached out directly to Groton Human Services, which runs the Groton Food Locker, in our town. I also put out on Facebook and in the local newspaper that we were available to help.

We created a second form for anyone who has needs assistance. Requests will start as a trickle, but may become a flood, and having a form to channel information through is vital to keeping track and not letting people slip through the cracks.

One challenge you may run into here is getting people and even organizations to as for help. One particular food distribution site had said they would welcome our help delivering food for them. A few days later, they mentioned that they didn’t have enough donations to be able to stock the effort, not realizing that I could help them solicit donations.

Just saying “we’re here for anything” may not get them to identify their needs. You may need to have a more in depth conversation to really identify the needs that you are able to address.

4. Build a Team

The step I am about to undertake is building a team so this doesn’t all go through me. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. I will be building a team of people with different skills to support the project in different areas.

Even if you are a one man band, you should have at least one assistant. Why? Because we’re dealing with an epidemic, and if COVID 19 puts you in bed for two weeks, who is going to do the work you stepped up to lead? Even in normal times, you should have a back up, but especially now.

That Brings Us Up to Now

This who thing started 5 days ago, so the story is a fairly short one. Find out what’s being done. Develop resources. Identify needs and deploy resource to needs. Build a Team. That’s pretty much it.

If you have questions or would like to share ideas, call Michael Whitehouse at 413-218-7946 or email

Making the Most of a Fundraising Event

The very successful Dinner in the Dark is an excellent example of how to capitalize on the generosity of your donors to make a difference in the world.

You’ve planned the dinner, you’ve sent the invitations, you’ve sold the tickets. Now it’s time to raise the money.

In this article, I will be discussing certain key points to maximizing the fundraising potential of your event. For the purpose of this article, I’m specifically thinking about fundraising dinners, but you will find the advice relevant to a variety of different fundraising event.

Continue reading “Making the Most of a Fundraising Event”

It’s Okay to Ask for Help

Image result for family financial crisis
Most Americans are one surprise away from financial crisis.

One of the most viciously insidious things that our culture does to keep working class people in their place is this ethos of independence. We are taught this myth of independence: an adult should be able to do everything without assistance all the time.

A friend of mine recently had a situation in which her car was hit by a reckless driver causing damage which impacted her ability to earn a living. It was suggested that she should create a GoFundMe to ask for help in repairing the car and dealing with a few other unexpected expenses, and she was very hesitant to do so.

The myth is that this idea of asking for help online with unexpected needs is some new millennial phenomenon. I’m here to tell you that is garbage.

In days past, when a person would have an unexpected expense, the community would come together to pitch in and help. They would pass the hat, sometimes literally. Most churches have a Deacon’s Fund or similar concept. This is something that everyone donates to with the understanding that it will be used to help someone who has a need beyond their capacity.

For many families, a simple fender bender can be the start of a crisis. The car is
needed to work. The work is needed for income. The income is needed to fix the car.

Before many unexpected needs were addressed by formal insurance, this was insurance. If you broke your leg and couldn’t work for a few weeks, your neighbors would collect money to help with your bills and bring you food and help with the kids and all the rest. This was done with the expectation that when another neighbor was in need, you’d be ready to pitch in.

Obviously, this is idealized, and did not happen in every situation, especially as we started moving to cities and no longer knowing our neighbors. Thus came the need for formalized insurance programs, government assistance, and the rest.

GoFundMe and other similar situations such as for my friend are not some new millennial trend. Rather, it is a digital mechanism to replace the form of supporting your neighbor in time of need that has held society together for the past 20,000 years.

Furthermore, this is not merely an artifact of the past. This is the way things are done among people of means today. Naturally, people with money don’t have to worry about the same small shocks like fender benders disrupting their lives. An unexpected accident or short term disability digs into savings rather than creating a crisis. But when larger issues arise, they are able to turn to their network for support. The business owner who turns to a friend for a loan to keep their business afloat through a crisis. The parent who turns to their friend to help with a financial need for a child.

Why don’t we hear about this? Because if you are a person of means and your friends are as well, you don’t need to 100 people to put together the money to address your need. You can ask one or two friends, and know that they will be able to help you without dramatic hardship, thus no need for a public request for assistance.

Put another way, if you do not have great wealth, you have been made to feel shame for not having great wealth when you need money to survive. If you buy into this, you are buying into the idea that not being wealthy makes you a worse person.

I, for one, do not buy into this. In fact, I believe that our willingness to support our neighbors, even those we do not know, makes us better people. The success of GoFundMe and other similar platforms in helping people overcome temporary hardship shows to me that we still live in a world of good people and that there is still hope for good in the world.

So if you need help, post that GoFundMe. And if you see someone asking for help, help them as you can. Remember that, when asked “who is my neighbor?” Jesus answer was that everyone is your neighbor.

If you’d like to help my friend Sarah, visit her GoFundMe here. If you are reading this after that request closes, consider finding another request and helping them. Even $1 or $5 can make a difference.

The Foolishness of Fear

For some people, the telephone is the scariest thing in the haunted house.

In sales, we often encounter irrational fear. We may not want to pick up the phone to make calls because we are afraid of what they might say. Our fear may prevent us from coming right out and asking for an appointment. We might be afraid to drop into a business to make a first contact. On an appointment, our fear might prevent us from asking for the sale.

When you work in sales, and if you are an entrepreneur you work in sales, you have to do a lot of scary things. You have a scary job.

But do you really?

Have you ever seen one of those signs that says “Confined space. Permit required.” That’s because the space inside is claustrophobically small. It might just wide enough for a person to enter. Somebody gets that permit and goes into that space. That’s a scary job.

Image result for confined space sign
The people who hold those permits are probably unimpressed by how scary it is for you to make a phone call.

Firefighters have to run into burning buildings. As I write this, there are a series of deadly wildfires raging in California. There are firefighters who have to go out into the burning forests and get right up next to fires the size of towns, in which a sudden shift of the wind could engulf them in flames. That’s a scary job.

Police officers I have spoken to have told me that the scariest kind of call is not an armed standoff, not a gang issue, not a bank robbery, but a domestic situation. With an ordinary criminal, they are making rational judgements. They can be negotiated with. In a domestic situation, emotions are high and reason is out the window. Alcohol or drugs might be involved. There could be children in danger. The perpetrator may feel that they’re at the end of the road with nothing to lose. A police officer is expected to assess the situation, find the perfect answer, and do it all on the fly. That is a scary job.

Soldiers may find themselves going into a place where an enemy is actively trying to kill them with guns, missiles, or even bombs disguised as anything from piles of trash to baby carriages. That is a scary job.

This man would be unimpressed by your challenges walking into an office and asking for the owner.

Where were we before I went on this little soliloquy? Right, we were talking about how scary it can be to pick up a phone, to walk into a business, or to ask a fellow professional business owner to make a deal. Still think your job is scary?

Yet, it’s in our head. Foolish and absurd as it is, some of us are afraid to pick up a phone to set an appointment. How do we overcome that? Perspective and action. Perspective to realize that we’re not running into burning buildings or facing IEDs. Action to just get started. Pick up the phone and start dialing. Set your feet moving towards the door. Push the words out of your mouth to ask one more time for the sale.

If you are selling a quality product that is good for the consumer, you owe it to them to overcome your fear and help them make the right decision. Don’t let your irrational fear cause them to miss out on something good.

Sometimes all it takes to overcome your fears can be a little support and help in getting your head right. If you need that in your business, my Common Sense Coaching program may be right for you.

Michael Whitehouse is a connector in Southeast Connecticut. He is a publisher and market manager for Best Version Media.

You’ve Got Time

26 year old Michael Whitehouse. 14 years later, I'd be almost 40 year old Michael Whitehouse.
A 26 year old Michael Whitehouse running a small Western Massachusetts convention called Pi-Con.

When I was in my 20s, I had an urgent sense that time was running out. 30 was coming, and I better have some accomplishments by then. The sense of overwhelming urgency led me to throw hail marys rather than planning and following a process.

As I approached 30, my first business had failed, and I felt that I was running out of time. Around this time, I had the good fortune to be the guest handler for Terrance Zdunich at a convention I worked for. Zdunich had created a cult hit called Repo: The Genetic Opera, which is why he was a guest at the event.

During the course of the weekend, I mentioned to him that I was approaching 30 and felt I had nothing to show for it.

“Michael,” he said, “when I was your age, I had never ever thought of Repo.”

These words changed my life. Here I was, talking to man who had achieved some considerable success in his field, telling me that he was older than I was at the time when he even started down the road to the success I now saw.

Time wasn’t running out. The clock hadn’t even started.

Approaching 40

In my 20s, when I spoke to Terrance, I felt like I was on the runway, but not getting enough speed to take off. Turns out that I wasn’t on the runway. I wasn’t even on the taxi way. I was still at the terminal, fuel being pumped into the plane.

My 20s was a time to learn hard lessons, develop skills, accumulate experience. My 30s was the time to refine the knowledge of my 20s into actionable information.

I moved to Eastern Connecticut at 34. I wrote Guy Who Knows A Guy at 37. Next year, I’ll be 40.

As I approach 40, I realize that, God willing, I still have more years in front of me than behind me, but that these will be the best years. It took me about three and a half decades to learn what I needed to know to get started, and another half decade to get all my ducks moving in the right direction.

The next forty years is for seeing what comes of that. It may turn out that I don’t have the right ducks or they are moving in the wrong direction, but that’s all a matter of constant refinement, rather than the need for total overhaul.

Message for 20-somethings

If you are in your 20s, and you feel like you’re running out of time, this message is for you. Unless you have a terminal illness, you have plenty of time. You have time to try things. You have time to fail a few times.

Do something. Try something. Learn from it. Roll that knowledge back in and try something else. Some people hit it out of the park during their first adult decade, but most don’t. That’s okay. You’ve got time.

Tony Robbins is 59. That's a few years past 40.
Tony Robbins is 59. Imagine what his next 20 years is going to look like!

Message for those over 60

Some of you reading this may be older than 40 and thinking it’s cute that I’m talking as if 40 was old. Maybe you’re 60 or 70 or even 80 and thinking that, if you had as much time as I do, you might try something, but you’re out of time.

But are you really? My first business lasted for five years. The average American lifespan is about 78 years. If you’re 60, you could start and fail three of my five year businesses and have 3 years left afterwards.

What if you’re 70 or even 80? Why not try something? What do you have to lose?

I was recently speaking to local senior living facility about organizing an entrepreneurship program for their residents. Their residents are all retired and not worrying about their day to day bills like young entrepreneurs are. They can build a business that makes $5000/year and call it a success if that’s their goal.

At every stage in life, there are tradeoffs. At 39, I have less energy than I did at 22, but at 22 I lacked the knowledge and wisdom to make use of that energy. At 80, one might have other physical restrictions and possible lack the social resources they had at 40, but they would have a freedom that I don’t at 40. No kids to raise, finances already managed, etc.

If you’ve got a few miles on the odometer, I’ll leave you with one more thought. Purpose aids longevity.

George Burns on age

Unfortunately, I cannot find the exact quote, but I recall hearing George Burns said once that he has to live past 100 because he had a contract with a Las Vegas casino to perform past his 100th birthday, and he wouldn’t want to breach the contract.

Some people are inclined at a certain point in life to give up and just pack it in. For some, that happens at 80, others 50. However, others keep on going right up until they get their final reassignment orders to the hereafter.

If someone is happy relaxing and reading the paper every day in retirement, more power to them. But, if they are lamenting the quiet and lack of excitement, there’s no reason not to get back into the game.

If you’re reading this, you’ve still got time, no matter your age. What are you doing with it?

Michael Whitehouse is an author, publisher, and consultant who is just starting to get it figured out. He plans to live to 140 because that’s how long he thinks he’ll need to really figure it out.

My Business Is At Capacity

Stop Wasting Time
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Business owners sometimes tell me that they do not want to do any marketing because they are so busy that they cannot service all the clients that they have now.

For small businesses a who have only a few employees, this can be a really serious problem. Going from two to three or three to four employees can be quite a headache, especially when trying to find good people. If you are in this place, and you can’t hire a new person to expand, what can you do?

There is a natural limit to how much you can grow without increasing staffing, but there may be some things that you can do which will allow you to increase your revenues by better deploying the assets you have.

Let’s take a simple example. You are a consultant that clients will pay $100 per hour for your service. You have enough clients that you are working as many hours as you want to work and possibly more. As a consultant, you are selling your skills and knowledge, so it is very difficult to hire a second person who can help do what you do.

So, you’re stuck, right? Wrong.

While it may be impossible to hire someone who can do what you get paid $100 per hour for, you can hire someone to do the stuff you don’t get paid for.

Your time is worth $100 per hour. That means that if you have to take your car into the shop and it takes 2 hours, you lost $200 of potential revenue. Could you have hired someone for $40 to take your car to the shop and wait for it? You’d be up $160 on the transaction.

What else do you do that is not your most profitable activity? Cleaning? Errands? Administrative work? Bookkeeping? Answering the phone? Look at how you spend every hour in your week. What do you do which you could hire someone else to do for less than someone will pay you? Even if it would cost $50 per hour to get someone to take a particular task off your plate, you still net $50 in the deal.

Many of us don’t think of hiring someone to help with these kinds of tasks because that seems like the kind of thing that millionaires do. Of course, millionaires do that, but anyone whose time has a high value should be doing it. If your time is worth more than the cost to hire someone to take over a task, and the task is not core to your business, then hire out the task.

Do you not have enough hours in the week to capitalize on all the opportunities in your business? Contact Michael Whitehouse. He can analyze how you are deploying your resources and see if there are inefficiencies that you can take advantage of.

5 Reasons Why the College Admissions Scandal is Neither Surprising Nor Upsetting

There is a college admissions scandal, but it's not what you think.
There is a great scandal about higher education, but possibly not the on you’re thinking of.

A great college admissions scandal was discovered when it was revealed that wealthy and influential families were using bribes and faked test scores to get their kids into prestigious schools to which they were not entitled.

Here are five reasons why the college admissions scandal neither surprised nor upset me.

Continue reading “5 Reasons Why the College Admissions Scandal is Neither Surprising Nor Upsetting”